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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea permitted a citizen to visit North Korea for the first time in 2016 after a religious leader who had defected to the North passed away this month, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MoU) told reporters on Thursday.
South Korean Choi In-guk is the second son of Ryu Mi Yong, chairwoman of the Central Committee of the Chondoist Chongu Party and a member of the DPRK’s rubber-stamp Presidium of Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).
“The second son applied [for permission] to visit North Korea after receiving the news that his mother was in a critical condition,” the MoU told local reporters during a closed-door news briefing. “From the perspective of reunion for separated families and humanitarianism, we allowed the visit on November 19.”
Ryu was born in the South but fled to the North in April 1986 with her husband Choe Tok Sin, a former South Korean foreign minister, ten years after she emigrated to the United States in August 1976, the MoU database shows.
Choi, however, must return to Seoul by November 26 and is being allowed to stay in Pyongyang for a week.
The permission is the first case that an individual has been allowed to cross the heavily fortified border since Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on January 6, 2016. As a rule, South Koreans are not permitted to visit the DPRK.
Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s most read newspaper, reported on Ryu’s death on Thursday, allocating half a page out of total six pages.
“Ryu Mi Yong sadly died of lung cancer at 12:10 PM on November 23 in 2016 at the age of 95,” Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), said on Thursday.
“Ryu Mi Yong was a patriotic political activist who had been devoted to the national prosperity and fatherland’s independent unification, accepting Premier Kim Il Sung and General Kim Jong Il’s noble ideology of loving the country and people.”
The North Korean leadership is according Ryu a state funeral, forming a state funeral commission including Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the SPA and Kim Yong Chol, a director of the United Front Department in charge of North-South relations.
“The funeral commission announced that the bier of the deceased Ryu Mi Yong was placed in Sojang Hall, Pothonggang District, Pyongyang, and receive mourners from 10:00 to 19:00 on November 24,” Rodong Sinmun said. “The funeral cortege leaves the hall at 08:00 on November 25.”
Ryu was a significant figure in the DPRK, who received the Order of Kim Il Sung, Order of Kim Jong Il and National Reunification Prize for her work on inter-Korean relations.
On February 14, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a birthday gift to Ryu to celebrate her 95th birthday.
Ryu visited the South in 2000 as a leader of the delegation of North Korean separate families and meet Choi, and her daughter Choi Sun-ae, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported in August 2000.
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun